Falafel is a snack for all seasons. It may not be gourmet food, but it’s always available, cheap and most important of all – it seems to define us Israelis, even if we did borrow it from the Egyptians.
Our local falafel kings agree that the Israelis, unlike the Egyptians, prefer it made of chickpeas and not ful. There is no doubt that the number of “best falafel” joints in the country is equal to the number of citizens, but there is a disagreement about how to fill the rest of the pita: salads, eggplant, French fries or just a few vegetables and tahini? Make no mistake; the health trend has not skipped over this dish and one can now find whole wheat and even gluten-free pita.
The falafel: Made of chickpeas imported from Spain, guaranteeing the same quality of ingredients all year long, and ground 15 times a day, ensuring freshness. The balls are rich with spices: cumin, coriander, ground sweet paprika, raw garlic and onion, and, of course, parsley. What makes them really special is the addition of sesame and nigella seeds.
Price: NIS 17
Hakosem, 1 Shlomo Hamelech Street, corner of King George, Tel Aviv
The original Egyptian: Yahaloma
When Yahaloma Levy opened her Habistron on the edge of the Levinsky Market, everyone expected she would feature the Egyptian cuisine she grew up on. When her mother, Lucy Levy, a native of Alexandria, died three months ago, Yahaloma decided to serve the traditional falafel from the other side of the Suez Canal twice a week in tribute to her.
Tel Aviv falafel joints
The falafel: Here five balls are served on a bed of arugula with lemon and salt, with pita and pickled lemons on the side. Each ball is dotted with homemade tahini and hot sauce (the falafel itself is very spicy too). This excellent dish is offered only twice a week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays.
Price: NIS 25
Yahaloma, 5 Zebulon Street, Florentin neighborhood, Tel Aviv
Social justice: Ratzon Falafel
The falafel: A generous serving of falafel balls inside pita is no small matter. In addition, the fresh and golden falafel is fried to order, highly spiced, rich in coriander and garlic, soft and crispy, so that even the balls on the bottom of the pita remain crunchy even though they have absorbed some liquid. The bottom line: an excellent portion at social protest prices.
The pita: Surprisingly handmade and especially large. Add some tasty tahini, pickled cabbage, onions with sumac and a lot of green salad. You can’t do better than this, but at this price, we aren’t asking for more.
Price: NIS 6.
Ratzon Falafel, 16 King George Street, Tel Aviv.
The classic: Gabai Falafel
Everyone talks about his excellent soups, but forget that Gabai’s is first of all a falafel place. Since 1946, hungry patrons have been eating lunch here, creating a long line at the entrance. They are willing to wait for Gabai’s famous falafel.
The falafel: Lovely balls, brown on the outside and yellow within: you’ll find a lot of them inside the pita.
The pita: First of all, this is one of the best pitas we’ve ever tasted; it certainly does much of the job. Add one of the best tahini sauces we’ve come across, a biting hot sauce, a lot of vegetables and top this off with eggplant. A joy.
Price: NIS 16
Gabai Falafel, 25 Bograshov Street, Tel Aviv
My first thought was to wonder why a restaurant chef would occupy himself with falafel. But chef Avi Biton of Adora creates Mediterranean dishes such as Moroccan cigars and pastillas, and so there is no reason to wonder about the presence of falafel in his restaurant.
The falafel: One is made of charred eggplant and parmesan cheese. Another upgraded falafel is filled with meat and charred eggplant, herbs and a bit of creamy parmesan, and spiced with a good measure of black pepper, served on crème fraiche and yogurt. It is accompanied by a nice sunflower sprout salad. Those who seek pita will be consoled by the excellent Adora house bread. The bottom line: Forget everything you know about falafel.
Price: NIS 42
Adora, 226 Ben Yehuda Street, Tel Aviv
More falafel you need to know about:
Tadmor: It’s no accident that Tadmor comes right after the top five. This is one of the best and cheapest falafel joints in the city, with a line stretching from here to eternity. A portion costs only NIS 12 and contains lovely browned balls with a relatively rough texture; the chickpea taste doesn’t disappear under the influence of herbs. The pita is hefty, served with cabbage, vegetables and tahini sauce. Those in need of more salad should take note of the small and impressive salad bar with an impossible array of hot sauces.
Tadmor Falafel, 98 Salameh Road, Tel Aviv
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